September 6

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal (September 6, 1771).

Shoes sold cheap.”

Joseph Smith and Jacob Thompson competed for customers.  Both placed advertisements in the September 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal to promote the shoes they made and sold in New Haven.  Smith’s notice appeared first, informing prospective customers that “he carries on the Business of shoemaking or cordwaining, in all its Branches” at his shop located at “the Green Boot and Shoe.”  He used “good Materials” and hired “the best of Workmen.”  In case that was not enough to attract the attention of local consumers, Smith also described a limited-time offer for those ready to pay (or barter for “Country Produce”) immediately rather than purchase their shoes and boots on credit.  Until September 20, he would “work 10 per cent. cheaper than the booking price.”  Customers could take advantage of this bargain, but only if they acted quickly.

Thompson’s advertisement ran immediately below Smith’s notice.  He declared that he “continues to carry on the Business of Shoe-making as usual” and already had “a quantity of ready made Shoes” in stock.  Rather than allow Smith to get the upper hand by setting lower prices, Thompson made an offer of his own.  For customers prepared to pay (or, again, barter) rather than buy on credit, he sold his shoes “10 per cent cheaper than Joseph Smith.”  This offer also concluded on September 20.  Only on rare occasions did advertisers mention competitors by name in eighteenth-century America, making Thompson’s notice exceptional.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently proclaimed that they had the lowest prices in town (or sometimes the entire colony).  Some offered to match the prices of their competitors, but they usually did not seek to undercut other purveyors of goods and services as blatantly as Thompson attempted to do with Smith.

The publication history of these advertisements added another layer to the competition.  Smith first inserted his notice in the Connecticut Journal on August 23, giving prospective customers four weeks to respond to his offer.  The following week, Thompson placed his advertisement as a response, but the two notices appeared on different pages.  On September 6, the printers decided to place the two advertisements together and added a headline that trumpeted, “Shoes sold cheap.” Neither Smith nor Thompson had previously included that headline in their advertisements.  A line separated it from Smith’s advertisement, making clear that the headline was an addition rather than part of either notice.  Why did the printers intervene?  Were they having some fun with the competition between two local shoemakers?  Whatever their intention, the new headline enhanced the advertisements, calling greater attention to them and benefitting consumers with cash (or country produce) on hand to respond to the limited-time offer.

July 18

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jul 18 - 7:18:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 18, 1767).

“He will sell as Cheap as the Messrs. Thurbers.”

Philip Potter placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to announce that “he has just opened a Shop, and received a great Variety of fashionable English and India Goods.” In the process of promoting his own wares, Potter made reference to other shopkeepers in the city.

To help potential customers find his shop, Potter indicated that it was located “AT THE WEST END OF THE GREAT BRIDGE, AND NEAR Messrs. BLACK and STEWART.” While this may have called attention to a competitor (who happened to advertise on the following page of the same issue), the public’s familiarity with Black and Stewart and where they kept shop may have outweighed any risk of giving them free publicity. After all, Potter’s new shop would fail if customers could not find it, making it necessary to refer to prominent landmarks in an era before standardized street numbers.

Potter also mentioned two shopkeepers in North Providence, proclaiming that “he will sell as Cheap as the Messrs. Thurbers, or any other Person in this Town.” Merchants and shopkeepers commonly promised potential customers that they offered the best prices, but rarely did they single out specific competitors for special notice. For their part, Benjamin and Edward Thurber had previously advertised that their prices were “as low as any Person in this or the neighboring Towns, or in North-America.” They made a bold claim to the lowest prices on the continent, but they did not name any of their competitors. Did Potter refer to them because they had indeed established a reputation among consumers for particularly low prices? In promoting his own shop, did he also acknowledge the Thurbers as the shopkeepers most likely to offer great deals for shoppers? Did Potter give voice to a general sentiment among Providence residents? If the Thurbers were indeed known to offer the lowest prices, then Potter used their reputation to his own advantage, provided that he actually matched their prices when customers visited his shop.

Most local readers of the Providence Gazette would have been familiar with the commercial landscape of their city. Rather than pretend that his competitors did not exist, Potter mobilized general knowledge about their businesses to attract customers to his own shop.